County's budget decisions have been prudent

It is certainly true that there is "more to governing than saving money." Sadly, the Mail Tribune's editorial last Sunday did not offer any suggestions on how we could have governed differently.

Years ago, we felt that the "O&C" money stream would come to an end. Although we actively joined other O&C counties to lobby the U.S. Congress to maintain the funding, we also budgeted for a scenario that would allow us to move ahead if the funding were to end. That action later proved to be prescient.

Rather than cutting all programs equally, we publicly prioritized services. Public Safety — Sheriff, Community Corrections — and Health and Human Services were given the highest priority. Preventing crime and saving lives were deemed more important than all other county services. The "other" services included roads, parks, planning, libraries and Expo.

In order to maintain the important lower-priority services, the Board of Commissioners directed our administration to find ways to lessen dependency on the general fund by increasing user fees and improving staff efficiency.

All departments dependent on the general fund had major cuts in income, including the Sheriff's Department.

User fees in Parks and Development Services were increased.

The library services were contracted out to a private entity, LSSI, which cut hours significantly at all branches. Because of generous contributions from the cities of Ashland and Talent and a number of active Friends of the Libraries groups, hours at many branches have been extended and library usage now exceeds pre-closure levels.

In some cases, the increases in fees have been inadequate to maintain needed services during the present economic downturn. Rather than closing departments such as Development Services or the Clerk's Office, we have supplemented budgets with an infusion of money that we had saved. More than $1 million was added to the Development Services budget last year. By doing so, we have maintained a critical mass of skilled employees who will be needed when the recession ends.

The fair has proved to be more difficult to manage. Unlike other county departments, fair operations are by state law under the control of the Fair Board and not the county administrator or the Board of Commissioners.

The Board of Commissioners doles out the money. The Fair Board spends it.

Other public entities, such as schools, budget a carryover fund to pay operating expenses during times of low income. That is prudent budgeting.

Unfortunately, the Fair Board has never done that. Instead, the Fair Board has expected the county to cover the deficit every year, and has never made an effort to pay the county back.

We have not given up on the fair. We are hopeful that its new administrator will do what is needed to move the fair into a more sustainable course. He has had significant experience in other venues and seems to be fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead.

As a board, we have not been saving money for the sake of saving money. Instead, we have been saving money to sustain vital services and allow our county to function at a high level long into the future. Because of this approach, Moody's has rewarded us with an excellent AA-2 rating for our efforts.

The public expects no less from us.

Dave Gilmour, M.D., is a Jackson County commissioner.

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